XY Stage Switch Test Board Helped Find Loose Wire Inside Connector

Following plan for the switch test board, I crimped 3-pin JST-XH connectors on loose wires at the end of XY stage’s limit and home switches. The colors matched the wiring diagram I found in documentation, which also matched what we determined via probing with a meter. But there was a problem hiding somewhere in this system, and that’s what the test board is here to determine.

The first discovery is that one of the limit switches is no longer closing before the carriage runs into a hard mechanical stop. In my eagerness to move the switches as far out to their limits as I could, I’ve managed to move one of the limit switches too far out of detection range. This will have to be fixed eventually but it isn’t the top problem right now.

Moving the axis back and forth and watching LEDs on the test board, we eventually figured out the problem: there is a loose connection somewhere in the system. There are six LEDs on the test board, a pair of complementary LEDs for each of three switches. In normal operation we expect one of the two LEDs to illuminate. But for the homing switch, it occasionally goes dark and neither LEDs are illuminated.

XY stage switch connector interior

Hunting for loose connections, we eliminated the more likely suspects first (such as my JST-XH crimps) and worked our way down the list. We did not expect the strong industrial standard AMP circular connectors to be the problem, but that’s where it was: pin for the black wire, which is the common wire of the homing switch, had backed out from its proper location and unable to make a strong and reliable connection. We pushed it back into position and it seemed to stay in position. At least, for now.

With this intermittent connection, homing the machine would have been an unreliable process. It is conceivable this was the very problem that caused the original machine to be retired, but that is just speculation. With the homing switch repaired, it’s time to get back to work.

Create A Board To Test XY Stage Switches

It was fun to tear apart an old optical drive for its stepper driven carriage, but the main objective was to figure out why my Grbl configuration didn’t work. When it worked on the first try with my home stepper test configuration, suspicion went to switches on the salvaged XY stage. Something about it did not behave as originally expected and I intend to find out why.

The first thing to do was to hunt for a manual. I found the manual for the ZETA4 controller on Parker Motion’s web site, and this time I returned in an attempt to find the manual for the switches. This type of mechanism no longer appears to be Parker’s main line of business, but hunting around their product pages I eventually found the Open Frame Series 300AT that is either the same XY stage still in production, or more likely a product that is its successor. But even if it’s not the exact same thing, the specifications table is instructive: this table is quite capable for every project we had in mind as a potential project candidate.

Backing off from daydreaming of possibilities, I found what I was looking for on that page in the link to a PDF titled Linear-Rotary Product Manual. This appears to be a scan of a paper document and not a digital original, but the important wiring diagram is perfectly legible.

Daedal switch wiring

This information matches what we’ve found by probing with a meter, giving us greater confidence our expected behavior is indeed the intended behavior. Using this information I planned to wire up each of these switches to their own 3-pin JST-XH connector in the following order:

  1. Normally Closed
  2. Common
  3. Normally Open

Each of these three connectors were then connected to a pair of LEDs that shared a connection to pin 2. One LED would illuminate when the “Normally Closed” circuit is closed, and the other would illuminate when “Normally Open” circuit is closed. If neither illuminate, there’s a problem somewhere. If both illuminate, we have a more serious problem somewhere! If all goes well, as long as this board receives power three out of six LEDs would illuminate. As each switch closes, the LED that is illuminated would switch within its pair of LEDs.

This test board is simple and, as it turned out, effective in successfully finding the problem.

Successful Axis Homing Test In Grbl

When I played with the salvaged XY stage, I had only about 10 minutes at the end of that work session to play with homing. I connected the homing switch so it can bring the pin low when the switch closes, and the stage moved right past the homing switch and into the hard end stop.

Before my next work session, I wanted to learn how to properly set up a homing switch for an axis in Grbl. So I started playing with salvaged optical carriages and, when I found it had very little mechanical power, I salvaged some tiny switches requiring only a very light touch to trigger.

Since this was only serving as a test chassis for Grbl configuration, I didn’t put too much work into making this an elegant and durable setup. The new limit switch was placed roughly in the right position with tape. All I needed was for the carriage to touch and close the switch when it nears one end of the travel. There was a secondary benefit to this very temporary setup: if the carriage runs past the switch as I expected, the switch is able to fall out of the way without damage.

I commanded this carriage to home and, much to my surprise, it functioned exactly as expected. I had thought this would replicate the problem I saw with the full sized salvaged XY stage running past the homing position. The fact that it did not implied the problem was not in Grbl configuration, but in the limit switch on board the XY stage.

The switch looked fine when I tested continuity with a meter, but it was an awkward setup and I could only look at one switch at a time. To help isolate the problem, I shall create a simple test circuit to watch all three switches (min and max limit, plus home) on a single axis.

Salvage Surface Mount Switches For Homing Test

After I managed to destroy a stepper motor during experimentation, Emily graciously donated another one to the cause. Hooking it up to my A4988 test board, I can tell this optical drive carriage had more power than the one I salvaged from a laptop drive. At least this one could win a fight against gravity. However, I was dismayed to find it is still quite weak in absolute terms, and this time I’m wary of cranking up the power in fear of destroying another motor.

So in order to set up something to learn how to wire up a homing switch for Grbl, I need to find switches that take less force to activate than the switches I already have on hand. Where might I find tiny switches that take tiny force to activate? The recently disassembled laptop optical drive!

SMD switches

Its control board had a few tiny surface mount switches. They were connected to small mechanical linkages throughout the drive so this control board can determine various states of the eject mechanism and such. There were a total of four switches and I put them under a heat gun in an effort to remove them.

This was a tricky procedure, as I had to melt the solder without melting the plastic. I put too much heat into two of the switches and destroyed them in the process. Fortunately, two of them were removed relatively undamaged. I put one of them under a meter to check for continuity, and it appeared to still work as a switch.

And soon, if all goes well, it will be a homing switch.

Optical Drive Carriage, The Sequel

During my learning and exploration of stepper motor control, I managed to destroy an optical carriage I salvaged from a laptop drive. In order to continue experimentation I need another stepper motor linear actuator of some kind. I rummaged in my pile of parts and came up empty-handed, but I am fortunate to have another local resource: Emily‘s pile of parts. My request was granted with an assembly that had an intact motor, drive screw, and linear carriage. The optical assembly in that carriage had been torn apart, but that is irrelevant for the purposes of this project.

Unlike the previous two stepper motors I played with, this one has exposed pads on the flexible control cable so I tried to solder to them. Given my experience soldering fine pitched parts, I knew it’s problematic to solder one at a time: they are so close together heat from one pad will melt solder on an adjacent pad. My best bet is to set things up so all the wires are soldered at the same time.

Emily salvaged stepper motor wiringThere is slightly less solder than I would have preferred on each of these joints, but several efforts to add solder created solder bridges across pins. Requiring removal by solder sucker, which reduced the amount of solder even more. Since there was enough for electrical conductivity, I left it as is to continue my experiments.


Unrelated to stepper motors or Grbl:

While I was taking the above picture to document my work, I noticed I was being watched and took a picture of the watcher. This little beauty was surveying my workbench perched on top of a cardboard box of M3 fasteners from McMaster-Carr. The spider was only about 5mm long overall including legs. Unfortunately at the time of this shot I had set it for shallow depth of field to photograph the above solder joint. I adjusted my camera to bring more into focus, but this little one was camera shy and jumped away before I could take a better shot. Still, I’m quite pleased with my camera’s macro lens.

Spider on McMaster Carr box

Panasonic UJ-867 Optical Carriage (Briefly) Under A4988 Control

Once I extracted the optical assembly carriage of a Panasonic UJ-867 optical drive, the next step is to interface it with a Pololu A4988 driver board. And just as with the previous optical drive stepper motor, there are four visible pins indicating a bipolar motor suitable for control via A4988. However, this motor is far smaller as befitting a laptop computer component.

Panasonic UJ-867 70 stepper motor connector

The existing motor control cable actually passed through the spindle motor, meaning there were no convenient place to solder new wires on the flexible connector. So the cable was removed and new wires soldered in its place.

Panasonic UJ-867 80 stepper motor new wires

Given the fine pitch of these pins it was very difficult to avoid solder bridges. But it appeared to run standalone so I reinstalled into the carriage. Where it still ran – but was very weak. Hardly any power at all. When I tilted it up so the axis of travel is vertical, the carriage couldn’t win its fight against gravity. Since the job is only to move an optical assembly, I didn’t expect these carriages exert a great deal of force. But I’ve seen vertically mounted slot loading optical drives. I thought it should at least be able to fight against gravity.

A Dell laptop charger delivers 19.2V. I’m not sure how many volts this motor intended to run at, but 12V seemed reasonable. Then I increased current beyond the 50mA of the previous motor. Increasing both voltage and amperage seemed to help with more power, but it remained too weak to overcome gravity.

As I’m tilting the metal carriage assembly in my hand, I started noticing it was warming. Oh no! The motor! I checked the temperature with my finger, which was a mistake as it was hot enough to be painful to human skin. I shut down my test program but it was too late, the carriage never moved again.

Lessons learned: don’t get too overzealous with power and check temperature more frequently.

And if I want to continue these experiments, I’ll need another stepper motor assembly.

Panasonic UJ-867 Optical Drive Carriage Extraction

The Panasonic UJ-867 is a slot loading optical drive. This particular unit was salvaged from a dead Dell XPS M1330 previously featured when I pulled its power port, and disassembled its battery, plus trying to use its AC power adapter to charge a Neato vacuum. A web search indicated this drive was better known as a drive used in certain models of Apple MacBooks. An optical drive typically has a carriage for its laser assembly driven by a stepper motor, and that carriage is my target for further stepper motor experimentation.

Panasonic UJ-867 20 Norton inside

When the lid was removed, the age of this device was clear: it still held a disk! The Windows edition of Norton AntiVirus confirms this was not from a MacBook. The year also spoke to the vintage of this drive.

Panasonic UJ-867 30 mechanicals top

With the disk removed, we can see all the mechanical linkages. This was far more than I had expected, because I had never taken apart a slot-loading drive before. Many of the pieces were involved in the slot loading mechanism, which is in the “disk inserted” position. (The Norton disk was not properly ejected – I removed the lid and popped it off!) Various mechanisms in this position block fasteners making it difficult to take apart.

Panasonic UJ-867 40 eject motor

Tracing through the mechanical bits, I guessed this motor is the heart of the drive loading and ejection mechanism. It is a simple DC motor so I should be able to put power on these pins to move the mechanism to their eject state. However, there are a few parts nearby that I might bump into if I powered from the top, so to be safe I soldered some pins from the bottom.

Panasonic UJ-867 50 eject motor wired

Applying power to this motor did indeed run through the ejection sequence, even though I’ve already removed the disk. Now it became fairly straightforward to take apart the drive.

Panasonic UJ-867 60 eject motor gearbox

Almost all of the pieces are specifically tailored to this usage, making reuse unlikely. But I do enjoy seeing the eject motor gearbox run. This is a distraction, though. The optical carriage was the goal and that was removed for the next step: connecting it to my Arduino + A4988 test breadboard.

Resuming Pololu Stepper Driver Adventures with Arduino and A4988

By the time I got around to playing with homing switches on a salvaged industrial XY stage, it was getting late. I only had a few minutes to perform one experiment: connect the normally open homing switch to X_LIMIT_PIN (GPIO02 as per cpu_map.h), set HOMING_CYCLE_0 to X_AXIS in config.h, and sent command to home X-axis. The motor moved right past the switch into the hard stops, so I turned off the ESP32 marking an unsatisfying end to the work session.

I wanted to be able continue learning Grbl while at home, away from the salvaged hardware, so I dug up the A4988 motor control board I’ve played with briefly. It’s time to get a little further in depth with this thing. Motivated by my current state in the XY stage project, the first goal is to get a stepper motor to activate a homing switch. If I could get that far, I’ll think about other projects. People have done some pretty creative things with little stepper motors controlled by Grbl, I could join that fun.

Rummaging through my pile of parts, the first stepper motor I retrieved was one pulled from an optical drive. This particular stepper motor had only the drive screw, the carriage has been lost. But with four exposed pins in two groups of two, it is a bipolar motor suitable for an A4988 motor control board. I just had to solder some wires to make it usable with a breadboard.

Since this stepper motor was a lot smaller than the one used in my previous A4988 stepper motor experience, I thought this was a good opportunity to learn how to tune the current limits on these modules by following instructions published by Pololu and using an Arduino as a test controller running code published on this page. I started with a limit of 100mA, but the motor got quite toasty at that level after running for a minute. I turned it down to 50mA, and it no longer got hot to the touch running that Arduino sketch.

This is a good start, but a motor with just a drive shaft is not useful for motion control. The next step is to find something that could push on a limit switch. I don’t seem to have anything handy, so it’s time to start digging into salvaged hardware.

XY Stage Position Detection Switches

When I built my prototype Grbl ESP32 controller on a breadboard, I thought I would get X and Y axis to start moving before looking at other parts of the system. Once I got X moving, though, I changed my mind. Instead of getting Y to run, I wanted to make sure I understand more of X. Which meant learning about limit switches and homing routine in Grbl.

But first, a look at the actual hardware, which meant picking up the other wiring harness leading inside the linear actuator. There were nine wires, only six of which were connected from its previous usage. Three of the six were connected together resulting in a total of four unique pins.

On the assumption the three wires twisted together is a common ground, I probed between it and the remaining wires. I found two of them were closed circuit and the remaining one was open. This is consistent with a homing switch and two limit switches. The homing switch is normally open and, during homing operation, the controller looks for that switch to close. When that happens, the controller knows where home is. The limit switches are normally closed because that allows them all to be wired together in series. If any limit is reached, the circuit opens, and the controller stops. For the purposes of machine protection, it didn’t really matter which limit was reached, as long as it was detected.

With the ZETA4 unplugged, the stage could be moved by hand. Watching the output from a meter wired up to these pins, I looked for positions where these switches were tripped. The initial results were very disappointing! The limit switches would trip when there were still over ~10cm of travel remaining, and the home switch is ~5cm further inside of that range. This severely constrains the usable area to a very small subset of total area. When I reported this finding to the rest of SGVHAK, I was told “Oh. Why don’t you move them, then?”

Move them?

I didn’t know these switches are adjustable to fit specific installations. In its previous life, this tables only needed to deliver a small range of its overall motion and were set appropriately. An allen wrench was all I needed to remove the cover and look inside: I saw three devices labeled Hamlin 59135, still in production and available from Digi-Key for $7.48 in single quantities. Each of these is a reed switch with a normally-open and normally-closed wire in addition to their common wire.

This explains the nine wires in the bundle: three wires for each of the switches, and the previous installation only used the common wire plus one of the other wires, leaving the remaining unconnected.

I loosened the screws holding these reed switches in place, and move them as far to the ends as I could push them with existing wiring. This still leaves approx ~3cm on either end, but I’m content to leave them as safety margin. The physical size of the home reed switch meant it couldn’t get within ~4cm of the limit switch. I don’t know if this is a problem yet. Next step: figure out how to interface these switches into Grbl.

Successful First Commands From Grbl ESP32 To Parker ZETA4

Once I could bring my breadboard prototype Grbl ESP32 controller into the shop where the salvaged XY stage lives, I was eager to hook up some wires to see if anything moves. While I put provisions for two axis on my breadboard, it felt like a good idea to start with just the X axis. It moved, but not accurately, because I had not configured the two components to match.

These stepper motors have 200 steps per revolution. ZETA4 controllers can easily handle full steps, but there are a lot of options for microsteps configurable with switches. The headache here is the lead screw: it is an old Imperial unit with a pitch of 5 revolutions per inch, but Grbl is a metric minded piece of software with everything in terms of millimeters. Using a conversion rate of 25.4 millimeters per inch, the most obvious ZETA4 microstep option that divided evenly is 25,400 steps per revolution.

The good news is that Grbl ESP32 appears fast enough to generate pulses at this speed, which is orders of magnitude beyond what I can generate with AccelStepper on an ATmega. But even with tests along a single axis, the system would halt at various times and I don’t always understand why. For example: one of the halts gave an error of “Door Open” but Grbl configuration file explicitly said to ignore the door sensor switch, so why is it stopping motion? There are more to this system I don’t yet understand.

So for the sake of eliminating potential problems, both the ZETA4 and ESP32 were configured for 2000 steps per revolution, or 10 micro steps in between whole steps. We know this is easily within the timing capabilities of the chip and, while it may introduce some error converting between Imperial and metric, it’s not the biggest problem right now so we’ll deal with it later.

These intermittent errors will likely continue as I run this system, and I will have to diagnose and debug as I go. In parallel with this, I’ve changed my plan: as my next step I will not connect the Y axis step/direction motion control pins. Instead, I will continue to refine X axis operation by getting position homing to work.

ESP32 Grbl Controller Breadboard Prototype

An ESP32 plus Grbl motion control software seems like a good candidate for running an old industrial XY table, definitely promising enough to move forward with prototyping. I had originally intended to use an Olimex ESP32 DevKitC (*) as it was equipped with two rows of sockets. This is easy to connect with jumper wires while not leave pins exposed to risk of short circuits.

This plan was short lived, because I quickly ran into a problem: The ATmega at the heart of an Arduino is a beefy 5V part that can supply up to 40 mA per pin. In contrast, the ESP32 is rather delicate 3.3V part that should not exceed 12 mA per pin. The data sheet for the ZETA4 controller I want to connect to this board expects a minimum of 3.5V to signal step and direction, which means I need external components to shift the ESP32 voltage level up to what the ZETA4 expects. When I made this discovery I was momentarily tempted to switch back to an ATmega solution, but the siren call of higher performance carried me forward.

Since I would need external components, the project brain switched to my HiLetgo ESP32 development board (*) which is mostly identical but came equipped with two rows of pins appropriate for a breadboard. Four level-shifting units were installed, each built around a 2N2222A transistor. They were connected to the step and direction pins for X and Y axis, and each received a LED (and corresponding current-limiting resistor) to indicate activity.

Staying consistent with the system I used for Glow Flow, red LEDs indicate X axis activity and green LEDs indicate Y. These LEDs allowed me to perform a quick test to verify the presence of blinking activity. Next step: connected them to ZETA4 controller to see if the motors move as commanded.


(*) Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Evaluate Grbl For XY Stage

I considered driving an old industrial XY table from a 3D printer controller board. I have a Melzi board on hand to use but its onboard stepper drivers were too well integrated to be easily adapted to this project. I considered running Marlin on an Arduino directly, but if I’m going to start building my own control board instead of one already tailored for Marlin, it makes sense to look at other options. Given the popularity of the Arduino platform, there’s more than one motion control project out there for me to consider.

Enter Grbl.

Unlike Marlin, which is primarily focused on 3D printing, Grbl offers a more generalized motion control platform. Provisions already in the code include pen plotting, laser cutting, and 3-axis CNC milling. All of which could be done with Marlin as well, but with different amount of code modifications necessary.

But an even bigger advantage in favor of Grbl is the existence of an ESP32 port. Marlin’s development team is working on a 32-bit hardware abstraction layer (HAL) to take it beyond ATmega chips. It looks like they’re up and running ARM Cortex boards and have ambition to bring it to ESP32. But a Grbl ESP32 port is available today and stable enough for people to use in their projects.

The headline feature is, of course, speed. While AccelStepper topped out around 4 kHz pulses, Grbl on ATmega is good for approximately 30 kHz. Grbl on ESP32 claims “at least 4x the step rates” which is likely a very conservative claim. After all, we’re comparing an 8 MHz 8-bit chip to a 240 MHz 32-bit chip. Though running on the ESP32 does incur more overhead than bare-metal code running on an ATmega, which is important in time-sensitive applications like motion control.

There are upsides for this real time operating system (FreeRTOS) overhead, as it allows the ESP32 to handle things beyond motion control. The best part employs its WiFi module to present a web-based control interface. A control interface would have required additional hardware in a Grbl machine built around an ATmega, but with Grbl on ESP32 I just need a web browser to start testing.

And since I already have an ESP32 development board (*) on hand, this looks like a great venue to explore. Let’s try running this XY stage with an ESP32 running Grbl.


(*) Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Evaluate Retired Melzi Board for XY Stage

In an effort to put a salvaged industrial XY table back to work, the Arduino AccelStepper was used as a quick test to see if the motors and controllers still respond to input signals. Things moved, which is a good sign, but the high precision of the Parker ZETA4 controller demanded step pulses at a far higher frequency than what AccelStepper could deliver.

The search then moved on to something that could generate the pulses required. I’m confident the hardware is capable of more, as AccelStepper topped out at less than 5 kHz signal on a 8 MHz chip. Pulsing a pin isn’t a task that requires over 1,000 instruction cycles. Given familiarity with the 3D printer world, I started looking at Marlin which runs on Arduino hardware.

The problem with running Marlin on my Arduino Nano is that I would have none of the associated accessories. No control panel, no SD reader, etc. However, I do have a full control board retired from one of my 3D printers. This board called itself a Melzi Ardentissimo and a search led to the Melzi page of RepRap wiki. Thanks to the open nature of this design, I could trace through its PCB layout. Much to my disappointment, the step and direction signals connected straight from the tiny pin on the main processor to the motor driver without surfacing in an easily tapped fashion. The intent of this board is integration and it’ll be quite some work to defeat that intent in order to decouple the processor from its integrated stepper driver.

Fortunately, I’m not limited to the world of AVR ATmega chips, nor Marlin software. There’s another very capable processor on hand waiting for such project… an ESP32 running Grbl software.

Arduino AccelStepper Under The Scope

The standard Arduino library includes a stepper motor control library. The external AccelStepper library adds the capability for acceleration and deceleration curves. I thought that would be important for driving industrial equipment as the large pieces of metal impart far more momentum than what I’m familiar with in a 3D printer.

As it turns out, I was worrying about the wrong thing. I connected my bargain oscilloscope to the output pins of my (knockoff) Arduino Nano and watched the pulses go by as I issue different commands to AccelStepper. As I issued commands for faster and faster speeds, I could see those pulses come closer and closer together until they were almost but not quite 0.2 ms apart. Running a test program in a tight loop, an Arduino running AccelStepper is indeed failing to reach 5 kHz pulse speed.

A little web search indicated this is roughly comparable to what others are saying online. AccelStepper is good for roughly 3-4 kHz and things get dicey beyond that. For the ZETA4 controller, configured to 25,000 microsteps per revolution, this is simply not fast enough to get decent speed out of the box.

How does this happen? Further web search indicated this is because all the timing for AccelStepper is done in software. Perhaps for the goal of leaving the very precious hardware timer resources for other user programs? That’s merely speculation of the design decisions involved. But one thing is certain – AccelStepper limits meant it is not sufficient for generating high frequency pulses required to drive this particular salvaged XY motion control table. I’ll have to look at something more specific for motion control, possibly a 3D printer control board.

Old Industrial XY Stage Moves Again On Arduino AccelStepper

A decades-old piece of industrial equipment has failed and been retired, but its motion control table was still good and salvaged for a potential future project. It is a far cry from the kind of motion control equipment I see on a hobbyist 3D printer. Much more rigid chassis, more precise linear guides, finer pitch thread, far beefier motor, under the command of a much more capable control box. One example: the A4988 stepper motor popular in 3D printers features the capability to generate up to 16 microsteps in between whole steps of a stepper motor. In contrast this Parker ZETA4 unit features up to 255 microsteps.

Pulling from the electronic hobbyist world, I set up my Arduino to run the AccelStepper library generating stepper motor direction and pulse signals. It was connected to one axis of the XY stage for the first test. It was exciting when the motor started turning, but it was very very loud! I doubted it was supposed to sound like that. A bit of examination found two problems: the ZETA4 was configured to take whole steps — no microsteps — which is always noisy. And I amplified this mistake by accidentally choosing a speed that caused a resonance.

Once the ZETA4 was configured to its default of 125 microsteps, things were much quieter and smoother. It also slowed down significantly, because each pulse on the step pin moved 1/125 as far as it did before. (And a full revolution of the motor was only 200 steps.) The obvious answer was to increase frequency of those pulses, but I seemed to top out at around 5,000 pulses per second. This surprised me: The ATmega328 chip on board an Arduino is running at 8MHz. I would have expected it to easily generate pulses faster than 5 kHz. Time to put this guy under the oscilloscope and see what we see.

New Project: XY Stage

The next project seizes upon the opportunity to work with a piece of industrial equipment whose price tag is far too high for me to justify spending on a hobbyist project. It is a combination of two linear stages bolted together at right angles to each other, allowing precise motion control along two axis. A configuration like this usually ends up handling the X and Y axis, so I’m going to call this the XY Stage project.

It formerly controlled the movement in some sort of inspection machine. The machine is decades old and, when the ancient DOS PC running everything died, the machine was retired rather than repaired. The old computer, associated software, and camera system were not interesting: the world has long since moved beyond their capabilities. The XY stage, however, is still perfectly functional and was salvaged for potential use in a project. Its capabilities has not been entirely outdistanced by its modern counterparts.

The control logic entry point for the system are these Parker ZETA4 Drive Compumotor modules. The design has long since been retired. However, machines built on them are still running and there’s still a market for those modules. Available new for around two thousand US dollars, they are also available used for several hundred dollars. On the side of this module is an imposing looking chart detailing all the ways it can be configured. But if we can temporarily set them aside, we see the method of control are two pins: one for direction, and another for step.

ZETA4 step dir

That makes it a lot less intimidating! Control protocol for this big box is basically the same as the A4988 stepper motor driver boards popular in hobbyist 3D printers. From a system architecture perspective, this is “merely” a larger, more expensive, more durable, more precise, and more powerful cousin to the little fingernail-sized circuit boards in my 3D printer control box. It is completely within our capabilities to command such a device.

I don’t know what we might be able to do with a XY stage, but I know it is too good to be gathering dust. I want to see if I can get it to do my bidding, and once I have a better understanding of its strengths and weaknesses, I’m confident a suitable project will arise.